2.4.2: 1585 - 1725 - Education and literacy

Economic expansion and increasing prosperity no doubt stimulated the possibilities for and the participation in education within the Republic. Primary education was also seen as a way to extend and consolidate reformed religion. After the Synod of Dordrecht (1618-1619), the grip of the Calvinist church on education was reinforced. The children of the poor were to be given free education, an aspiration that would only be realized on a wider scale in the eighteenth century. Schoolmasters had a right to payment by the authorities but had to sign the formula of subscription in which they promised to educate in the service of the reformed faith. Inspectors appointed by the town supervised education.

In the sixteenth century the lower school separated from the Latin upper school. In the seventeenth century, the former acted as a Low German school quite separate from the latter, the grammar school. Most children went to the Low German school between the ages of five and ten. Education provision in towns consisted of town schools, private schools, schools for the poor and sometimes also orphans' and children's homes where elementary education was provided. The village school was common in the villages. In addition to the Low German schools there were, in the towns, the more expensive French-and-Low German schools where, in addition to the elementary curriculum, French and arithmetic, and sometimes, bookkeeping, science and geography were taught. At the 'real' French school, intended for pupils of the higher classes, lessons were exclusively in French. Research into the availability and nature of primary education in towns and villages shows that nearly everywhere people could learn to read and write. Boys and girls went to schools for elementary education and thereafter, children, mainly of the higher classes, went to separate schools. The grammar schools were intended exclusively for boys. Some families, however, decided not to send their children to school but to have them educated at home.

Reading and writing were taught at the Low German school in addition to religion. Learning to read often progressed slowly because of the spelling-reading method which was used. Also, children had to learn the different alphabets which were used for writing and printing. Individual schooling was the rule: older and younger children, boys and girls, sat in a single room working individually at their own pace and were tested in turn. The most common schoolbooks for the teaching of reading and writing were the Kleine ABC-boek and the Grote ABC- of Haneboek, Trappen der jeugd and the Letterkonst and Zendbrieven. Supplementary reading was to be found in the Spreuken van Salomo and the Historie van David. Historical reading matter was offered by the Spiegel der jeugd and the Nieuwe spiegel der jeugd which covered the cruelty inflicted by the Spaniards and the French on the Dutch population.

Although the efficiency of elementary education in the Republic is difficult to determine, some local data indicate a relatively high degree of literacy. In Amsterdam in 1630, 57% of men and 32% of women between the ages of 20 and 35 were able to sign their marriage banns. By 1680 this had risen to 70% and 44% respectively and in 1729/1730 to 76% and 51%. Calvinists and Lutherans scored higher than Catholics. City-dwellers were not by definition better educated than those in the villages. Notarial deeds for the period 1659-1705 and registers of orphans for the period 1616-1705 also show high literacy figures for the village of Graft: the former source showed an average of 77.79% male signatories and 43.74% female while the latter showed 82.60% and 24.07% respectively. A signature, incidentally, is seen as an important but certainly not unequivocal indication of the ability to read and the ability to write. Also, the sources used for the research into signatures are not always representative.

author: J. Salman

Education and literacy